Welcome to Week 4 of Exquisite Corpse! I’m the Hayes Code and this is my chapter! (Go here to start from the beginning!) Let’s get this corpse a-shamblin’!
PREVIOUSLY, ON THE NUMA LEGACY:
The Senate would have to decide the fate of these books, but without a doubt they would have them destroyed. And who could blame them? Those weren’t meant for mortal eyes.
Smiling to himself, he made his way towards the door, blissfully unaware that since he’d opened this email his fate had been sealed.
He tried not to think about his wife’s last moments, the fear she must have felt as her plane spun into the Bolivian jungle six years before.
A nanosecond later, his world was lit up in red and orange. Then the shockwave hit him. Then the roar of the explosion.
He knew them but had never seen linked together like that, did not know a word for it in any other language. But if he were to venture a translation… Omnicide.
“You’re in danger,” the woman said, hunched forward over the wheel. She stole upward glances every few seconds. “Be quiet and let me drive.”
AND NOW, THE CONTINUATION:
On May 6th, 1921, a man named Moysitas collapsed as he walked down the edge of a dirt road some miles outside of Athens. Two women, coming in the other direction, saw him fall. They had not heard him cry out, had seen no sign of distress, but when they reached him, he was dead.
It was as unexpected as any death of a man in his eighties could be. Moysitas had been trim and wiry, had walked the same miles-long route near daily for forty years, had no history of heart problems, and—as more than one of the people who knew him whispered in the days following—had been the sort of mean old bastard who was likely to live forever. But, well, he was eighty-four. These things happen.
Nobody noticed the dead rat splayed at the side of the road. Or the bird in the grass. Or the wasps which had fallen from their nest like drops of water from a sponge.
Some days later, someone realized that all the trees within a circular area, about a hundred feet in diameter, were dead. That made a stir. They had been beautiful trees. (They were missed considerably more than Moysitas was.) Neither wound nor poison nor disease had killed them, as far as anyone could tell.
The mystery of the trees would become a minor local sensation, but by then nobody even remembered where exactly Moysitas had died. Nobody realized he had been just within the circle when it happened.
Even the ones who killed Moysitas didn’t realize exactly what they’d done. They were far away, and working with imperfect information—old scrolls, crumbling scraps, stolen long ago by a bronzeworker’s assistant. They didn’t yet know of the existence of the tablet, which at this moment in history lay forgotten in a drawer in Bulgaria. And so they worked with what they had, which, as it turns out, wasn’t much. Not nearly as much as they hoped.
That was the first test of the Omniscidium Engine.
The young woman was either an exceptionally good driver or an exceptionally bad driver, St. John thought as the Audi shot through a red light at considerably over the speed limit. After several miles of this without a fatal car crash, he decided on very good.
“Would you mind telling me who you are and—and why someone wanted to blow up my apartment building?”
“You,” she responded.
“They wanted to blow up you. I doubt they had any particular animosity towards the apartment itself.” She kept glancing at the rearview mirror. St. John looked over at his shoulder. There were some cars back there. He realized he had no idea how people in real life were supposed to tell if a car was following them or just driving the same way, and turned around again.
“And you can call me Monchot,” the woman added. “It’s a sort of code name.”
St. John tapped it into the translation app on his phone. “…penguin?”
“Ah, that reminds me,” Monchot said, and she plucked the phone out of his hands and tossed it out of the car.
“They might be able to track that.” Monchot took a sharp right turn, threading the needle between two pedestrians. “And yes. Penguin.”
She glanced back again.
“All the good animal names were taken.”
“I—do I—do you—?” St. John wasn’t sure which question to ask first. He had suddenly been transported from a world where he still needed to arrange for someone to take in his mail and water the plants while he was away into a world where—well—at least he didn’t have to worry about those particular problems any more. It was a little hard to catch up, mentally.
“Where are we going?” he finally settled on.
“If I told you that, it would defeat the point of the bag.”
“Yes, sorry, I’m going to have to put a bag over your head in a little while. It’s in the glove compartment, actually, if you want to go ahead, although if I were you I’d wait until we get on the plane. It’s just a standard security measure,” she explained, seeing his alarm. “Just protocol. You’re not in any danger. Not from us, at any rate. Actually, I gather the Director has a real soft spot for you. I’m to save your life at all costs, and—speaking of, are you a good driver?”
“I—maybe?” Not as good as she apparently was, but…
“Are you a good bazooka-firer?”
“Then you’re driving,” she said, already starting to climb over the back seat. St. John grabbed the wheel. He hadn’t noticed the sound of the helicopter, but there it was, coming in low over the buildings. Whoever had blown up his building had apparently figured out that he hadn’t been in it.
He slid over into the driver’s seat and and tried to keep the car from skidding off the edge of the road. From behind him came the sounds of Monchot swearing in French and some clanking and clicking that he assumed was a bazooka being put together.
“Keep going straight!” she shouted, standing up in the back seat with the bazooka over her shoulder. St. John could see her in the rearview mirror. The back of the bazooka, he realized, was pointing at him. Wasn’t that a bad thing? He was pretty sure that was a bad thing.
Then he heard the loudest sound he’d heard pretty much ever, and he was suddenly covered with styrofoam pellets. A moment later he heard another sound, also very loud: the sound of a helicopter exploding. It spiraled down into the famously water-free L.A. River and smashed into the concrete. Those parts of it which hadn’t exploded earlier did so now.
Monchot plopped down into the passenger seat. “I think we’re okay!” she said very loudly over the sound of mild hearing damage. “It was just the one helicopter!”
“Do—do you want to drive?” St. John asked..
“I’d rather not switch seats again!” she yelled back. “It’s kind of dangerous!”
Instead she directed him down a series of ever-smaller and ever-windier roads until they ended up at a small airstrip somewhere in the Hollywood Hills. It was here that the aforementioned bag made its appearance. St. John sat in the back of what felt like a very small plane while Monchot, or possibly a very quiet pilot who never said anything, took off. It was a long plane ride. Some music or an audiobook would have been nice, if his phone hadn’t been back on the freeway.
Eventually they landed, somewhere. He listened carefully as Monchot helped him off the plane. In the movies, this is where he would have overheard some kind of odd, distinctive noise that he would recognize later as the call of the Zambeezian Tulip Warbler, found only in one specific spot on Earth, but he didn’t. He just heard his own footsteps, and Monchot’s, and a door opening.
“The Director wants to speak to you privately,” Monchot said into his ear. “That never happens. You must be important, no?”
She pulled the bag off and he found himself in a spare but comfortable office containing a desk, a couple of chairs, and two doors. Then she walked over to the wall, pressed a button, and said: “He’s here.” Then she left.
St. John was just trying to decide if it was a good idea to sit down when the door opened and the Director walked in. Then he sat. Involutarily.
“Hello, John,” his wife Amelia said, a nervous smile creasing her very-much-not-dead face. “I-I’m afraid I owe you a bit of an explanation.”
That’s it for me! Did you have fun? I did! The best thing I learned over the course of my extremely cursory research is that thing about bazookas shooting styrofoam out the back. Come back next week when Miss Rim gives us Chapter 5!